The Missouri State Highway Patrol is assisting St. Louis Police, after a judge acquitted a former St. Louis police officer charged with murder.

A line of St. Louis Police officers near Tucker downtown watch nearby protesters on September 15, 2017 (photo from Missourinet’s Jason Taylor)

St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found Jason Stockley not guilty of first degree murder and armed criminal action, for the December 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith during a police chase.

Judge Wilson issued his verdict on Friday morning.

Highway Patrol Captain John Hotz says the Patrol is charged with protecting interstates and keeping them open.

“Obviously, any blockage of those interstates is going to be a tremendous hazard, not only to the motorists but to law enforcement as well,” Hotz says.

Hotz tells Missourinet interfering with traffic also presents a public safety hazard to pedestrians.

Captain Hotz says Missouri state troopers are positioned along Interstates 70, 55, 44 and 64 in St. Louis. I-64 is called “Highway 40” by most St. Louis residents.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that everybody has the right to free speech and has the right to peaceably demonstrate,” says Hotz. “But we’re also here to protect everyone that’s involved, to protect those people that are in the areas.”

Missouri Highway Patrol Colonel Sandra Karsten says the Patrol’s mission “is to protect the right to peaceful free speech and to protect lives and property. Our troopers are committed to this mission.”

Colonel Karsten says every trooper takes an oath to uphold the Constitution, which she notes ensures the right to free speech.

Governor Eric Greitens (R) has placed the Missouri National Guard on standby. Greitens has said he’s committed “to protecting everyone’s constitutional right to protest peacefully while also protecting people’s lives, homes and communities.”

Click here to listen to the full interview between Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth and Missouri Highway Patrol Captain John Hotz, which was recorded on September 15, 2017: